Motivate to Excel

If We're Not Scared, It Isn't Big Enough

May 24

Scrawled across the whiteboard of a large conference room, in vibrant red, were the words, “If we’re not scared, it isn’t big enough.” To the casual observer, these words may not have meant much, but to the team assembled in that room, it was a well-understood and familiar refrain designed to propel that group of brilliant people to take action that firmly placed them in their discomfort zone. This refrain was their rallying cry—a less-than-subtle nudge by a truly innovative leader calling them to rely on their own creativity, step beyond what was comfortable and do what others might consider the impossible.

Every industry has its great leaders: those people who enthuse, energize, induce, and propel others to accomplish more than they ever dreamed possible. But what does it take to motivate to excel? Is it creating the excitement, energy, and intensity required to propel those talented people around you to excel and move beyond their self-imposed limits?

Energize, Enthuse Rather than Simply Engage Them

Creating the excitement, energy, and intensity in those you lead is less about engaging them and more about energizing them. Energizing them is about building their internal drive to excel beyond what they even think they are capable of. This requires you to give those you lead the opportunities they don’t even know they’re ready for. Place value on expecting high levels of performance by setting what appears to be impossible as possible. Setting high expectations and aspirations encourages people to develop the skills that lead to their being able not only to survive but also thrive in an intense environment. Your acknowledgment of their skill and successes will lead those exceptional people to want to excel even more. The high energy they get from succeeding, your acknowledgment of their success, and the confidence gained give them a sense of being extraordinary, which drives them to be seen in only that way.

Lead by Example from Deep Within Your Own Discomfort Zone

Asking others to embrace the journey into their discomfort zone begins with modeling that behavior oneself. Visibly demonstrate the willingness to challenge your own thinking and behavior and also set those seemingly impossible standards for you. Let those you lead see that you keep the pressure on yourself as intently as you do them. Your continued quest to elevate your own performance reassures those you lead that pushing the limits is more than just rhetoric and that possibility lies in the zone of high expectations. Those you lead learn that by working together, you can all become more resourceful, innovative, and creative. And that enables them to see the possibilities in themselves.

Illuminate and Articulate the Challenge in Terms of the Vision

We can all become mired in the details of a problem and faced with only unexceptional solutions. Shedding light on the matter at hand in terms of the why helps you, your team, and the organization recast the matter at hand in ways that expand options, outcomes, and possibilities. Instilling and expanding the possibilities creates that wow and energy-producing moment. It inspires and affirms the underlying purpose for acting, helps guide the individual’s unique contribution to the outcome, and leads to a more innovative, impactful, and authentic connection to the vision from which groundbreaking and revolutionary growth and resolution happen.

Being in the orbit of a leader like that can sometimes be pressure-filled, hard-driving, and arduous. However, it spurs you to disrupt long-held patterns and to see what else you’ve got. I’d like you to share your memories of those people who’ve dared you to ask yourself: Is it big enough?


Information Overload

Apr 13

We are bombarded daily with information overload; texts, emails, and endless choices about what to order from the multitude of choices on the average menu board. It never ceases to amaze me how vast amounts of information can transform seemingly easy choices—like ordering a cup of coffee at Starbucks—into amazingly befuddling moments for people. There is a simple explanation for this phenomenon: we are trying to process more information than our brain is designed to handle at any given time. When our brain is over-stimulated, and our nervous system engages, we get what is more commonly known as “analysis paralysis.”

At most, our conscious mind can focus and retain three or four things simultaneously. Beyond that point, exposure to more information than the brain can process at one time rapidly diminishes our ability to focus, increases our stress levels, and reduces our ability to make choices. Ultimately, when we cannot endure any longer, they overwhelm us, and we choose things that are less than ideal.

What approach works best when we are experiencing this type of overwhelming situation? Is it to exploit what we already know to make a choice or step out of our routine and explore new possibilities? Let’s take a look at both strategies.

Exploiting What We Already Know

Taking advantage of what we already know can optimize our performance with respect to the current task at hand. The sections of the brain used in optimizing current performance and reward-seeking are triggered, narrowing the field of choices to what we know best as a means of being efficient in the pursuit of a reward (the choice). Taking advantage of what we know can also be valuable as a means of making more routine and less complicated choices, as it pushes us toward maintaining balance as the best means of making a choice while seeing the world through a familiar lens. The downside is that we miss seeing what could be over the horizon—trying something new and what might be hidden, leading to rash judgments made with familiar biases when the choice is more complicated.

Exploration Beyond What We Already Know

Opening up our minds and engaging in the process of exploration gives us a chance to “psychologically distance” ourselves from the quagmire of details surrounding the choice and consider it in a more abstract way. The process of exploration and abstraction triggers the parts of the brain that are responsible for our attention control features and the executive functioning areas of our brain that are tasked with managing new situations. Distancing ourselves and beginning the process of exploring beyond what we already know sharpens our focus and allows us to disengage from the routine thinking and take a needed pause to discover something that we didn’t know we wanted or come up with an innovative way of solving a problem. We become more flexible, adaptable, and less risk-averse.

Both strategies can combat information overload—in varying degrees and under certain circumstances—and are highly dependent on the outcome being sought. Figuring out which way you need to go will depend on what the choice is. Regardless of which one you decide to try, realize that any choice to reduce the bombardment will help you reduce stress and anxiety and make better choices.


What Our Purpose Is

Life As A Jigsaw Puzzle

Apr 05

Life arrives like a jigsaw puzzle: disassembled and in random pieces. Our job is to figure out how everything fits together and what our purpose is.

There are many times when the pieces seem to interlock easily, and we clearly see where we are headed. Still, sometimes, no matter how experienced we are at putting the pieces together, we encounter an obstacle: that one funky piece that we just can’t find or swear is missing from the box. In these moments, we all have our own ways of overcoming that obstacle and finding the next step in the journey.

Over the years, clients have shared with me the ways in which they overcome obstacles in life and the things they do that keep them motivated and moving in the right direction. Here are ten of the most common ones I hear in no specific order:

  1. Hearing stories about other peoples’ success in overcoming things more serious and significant than what I am facing.
  2. Inspirational quotes and books.
  3. Out of necessity and because I don’t have the option to stop moving forward.
  4. Visualizing what success looks like and taking the time to create a vision board, goals tracker, etc.
  5. Reliving past moments where I had success and seeing how I can use that to energize and give me new insights into my current situation.
  6. Being responsible, and because I need to keep going ahead.
  7. There is something bigger than myself involved.
  8. Reaching out to others and like-minded people for support who can share their experiences and ideas.
  9. Proving something to someone else.
  10. Taking time away to think and decide if it is really the right move.

I’m also curious about what keeps you motivated and moving in the right direction. Which of these resonate with you, and do you have one that works and isn’t on the list? Let me know what works best for you.


The Power Of Reflective Thinking

Mar 29

The story of Icarus is one of my favorites in Greek Mythology. Icarus’ father, Daedalus, angered King Minos, causing both Daedalus and his son Icarus to quickly flee the island of Crete. Being an inventor, Daedalus created two sets of wax wings so that they could fly away from the island. Daedalus, knowing how to construct the wings, cautioned his son to fly only in the middle of the sky, lest he fly too close to the sea and dampen his wings or too close to the sun and melt them. Icarus, in his youth, got so carried away that despite his father’s caution, he flew too high and too near the sun, melting his wings and plummeting into the sea, where he drowned. Icarus’ death is something that Daedalus never recovered from.

Daedalus is not unlike many of us. He was required to make and execute decisions that had profound consequences for others, oneself, and even generations to come. Daedalus didn’t choose to set out to put his son in a precarious position—he believed that he was making the wisest decision possible under the circumstances, yet his inability to see a potential unknown led to disaster. History shows time, and again, despite our attempts to make wise decisions, people fail to identify what it is they know and solve for what they don’t, leading them to decide or act unwisely. Making wise choices relies on a complex set of processes and an awareness of the totality of the situation being faced. If, as Socrates says, “True knowledge exists in knowing we know nothing,” what then can increase the likelihood that we can distinguish, decide, and act wisely in an impatient world where we have created a sense of immediacy in responding?

We need to master the art of balancing two related activities: discovering what is known and solving for what is unknown or what may remain unknown. This requires that we tap into our intuitive mind. Finding the right things to do and the right way to do them comes through practicing mindfulness, engaging in reflective thinking, and focusing on actively learning not from actual experience of the event but as part of envisioning and testing out the possibilities.

Questions that trigger reflection, and increase our focus and awareness at the moment, can be used to bring about the balance needed to decide wisely. Here are a few to get you started:

  • What is the source of the information I’m using to make my decision? Are these facts or opinions?
  • What facts are known, what remains unknown, and what do I need to know to make this decision? What other sources of information may I be ignoring or remain unknown?
  • What biases might I have toward one idea versus another? Have I listened to anyone who opposes the decision I intend to make?
  • Have I been given enough time to consider my decision, and is the time frame adequate to reflect the importance of the matter being decided?
  • What are the long-term considerations and impacts? Who does the decision benefit or disadvantage, and what are the risks?


How to Inspire Passion and Creativity Among Your Team

Nov 12

Whether you lead a huge organization or manage a small team, a large part of what you do revolves around building that dream team of super bright, highly successful people who have what it takes to put your team over the top. However, as the Chief Encouragement Officer, you often find yourself with an interesting dilemma: how do you instill in them the courage and motivation to realize their potential without limiting their passion and creativity, brilliance and innovative nature?

This isn’t an easy task, nor is it a one size fits all formula for everyone on your team. Therefore, your only option is to tap into their genius, and the best way to encourage them to succeed is to stop doing the thinking for them.

As Chief Encouragement Officer, when we encourage others’ thought processes, we tap into their creativity, help them make their own connections, improve the quality and clarity of their thinking, and create the passion and motivation to act.

Here are some ways to inspire and encourage those you lead to perform at the optimal level—who knows, maybe during the process, you’ll even give yourself the encouragement you need to achieve what you desire.

Step Back In the Moment from Giving Answers

Stepping back in the moment takes great self-management as a leader. It means going against the urge for expediency and opting for the longer-term gains that come with encouraging those we lead to think for oneself. Stepping back in the moment allows you to become the catalyst for the other person to uncover what isn’t working. At its core, encouraging the person to think through the issue with you as a sounding board, resource, and interested party creates the safe space needed to move beyond what may be comfortable for them without fear of disappointing you.

Challenge Them to Make Specific Changes

Encouraging them to think independently of you is critical to their ability to change long-held patterns and behaviors that aren’t working. Independent thought and experimentation foster and develop the individual’s ability to create the new map that will be their guide as they move forward. Pushing them to select goals that are challenging and specific helps them build the structure that supports the new behaviors as they emerge. Holding them accountable for their choices means praising what is working and encouraging a quick transition from what isn’t working to addressing what can work.

Acknowledge and Encourage Forward Movement In the Moment

Helping people reshape their self-perception means letting them know that you notice the changes when and where they happen. Don’t wait for the next official performance review or conversation to acknowledge their progress and encourage continued movement forward. When you notice the change, say something about it to the person in that moment. Impromptu acknowledgment encourages continued action and is a powerful motivator. Encouragement helps them push through when the process is scary and challenging.

Encouraging others to do the thinking for themselves delivers a huge dividend for all involved. Creativity abounds, and people learn to encourage and support each other instead of lamenting what isn’t working.

Are you ready to instill in those you lead the courage and motivation they need to excel?


What I Would Tell My 22 Year Old Self

May 14

Given the opportunity to go back in time, I would share the quote that sits beautifully framed on my office desk today with my 22 year old self. It was written by the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius in 167 AD in his work The Meditations. Aurelius wrote, “You have power over your mind—not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” The impact on my thinking was immediate. In one brief moment, the power of his words and the resonance they had in my life completely changed my perspective and altered how I would deal with life’s challenges and what it meant to live a success-filled life. What I realized in that moment was that in its simplicity, this quote holds the key to cultivating the mindset that enables one to effectively deal with any situation or event life brings your way.

The words express the powerful truth that our thoughts and how we choose to execute them define the quality of the life we experience. We are all familiar with the stories of people like Louis Zamperini and Eli Wiesel, and Marcus Aurelius.

The lives of these men under difficult and even dire circumstances serve as evidence that one always has the freedom to choose how to face their struggles in life. Each, in their own way, defined the events they experienced rather than having the events define them. Recognizing that we always have the choice—that power over our minds, thinking, and reactions—gives us the strength and freedom to choose to compromise, oppose, or collaborate in any situation. This means that much more than happiness comes from within. It requires that we seek the facts, the truth, analyze them, consider them in relation to our values, and then decide to act. A decision based on our values and of our choosing gives us the strength to face new challenges and leaves no place for blame on others or ourselves. Choices and decisions add up, and no matter how seemingly small some are, all of them carry their weight and add up to what we become. Realizing that we ultimately have the power over our choices gives us the strength to take on the difficult challenges that, once met, leave us with a sense of fulfillment, meaning, and purpose and, in the end, a life well lived.

I share this with you in the hope that you will consider this advice as you move out into the world. Know that all the experiences to come, both positive and negative, have the opportunity to be used to your advantage—especially those where initially you feel the most powerless. Unleashing your infinite potential begins with the realization that we cannot control what happens to us—we can only control our thoughts and responses to the events of our lives. As you face the great challenges and successes ahead, find strength and peace to shape your life by having power over your mind.


6 Strategies to Cultivate Candor

And Catapult Your Success

Apr 28

In our busy, fast-paced and turbulent world, genuine communication is rare, and often we find ourselves grappling with how to handle difficult conversations with ease, clarity, and effectiveness. How often have you found yourself choosing to avoid the conversation (even though it needs to take place) by simply opting not to raise the issue or holding back on sharing your full perspective? How many times have you decided to candy-coat the message or ended up bludgeoning someone with the brutal truth to the point of harming the relationship and stifling creative problem-solving?

Candor engages others in dialogue that shares a realistic picture of what is taking place without being brutally honest, which results in harming, hurting, or alienating others. Candor opens the pathway for people to move beyond their individual points of view, gain fresh insight, expose biases, and explore uncomfortable perspectives so that they see opportunities and not obstacles. Practicing candor in your personal and professional life enhances collaborative relationships, reduces conflict, and leads to better and more meaningful outcomes. Candor as a practice leads to increased value being created for all involved, resulting in increased life satisfaction and a competitive edge.

Adopting candor as a guiding principle requires you to take steps to ensure that you are sharing information, looking for differing perspectives, and behaving the way you want others to behave. Here are some ways that you can begin adopting candor as a guiding principle:

1. Tell the truth to oneself and then extend it to others

Don’t avoid the opportunity to be appropriately honest, raise difficult issues, or engage in challenging conversations with yourself and others. These moments hold the potential for learning and growth. Encourage those around you to do the same.

2. Create and encourage people to share information and encourage others to reach out to those who need to know and make decisions or act upon the information

Be clear that you value the free flow of information, and let others know that although not everyone needs to know everything, it is your and their responsibility to find the appropriate people and share with them what you think, know, or believe.

3. Make it clear to all that you welcome difficult conversations and hearing troubling information

Let others know that you don’t want information sugar-coated or to only hear nonstop happy talk, but that you willingly seek out and want to hear information that does not conform to your viewpoint or perspective. Be open to giving and receiving feedback. Surround yourself with people who will value that as well.

Encourage open debate and feedback by creating an environment of openness and trust, and share and demonstrate candor with those around you.

4. Demonstrate respect for those who have the forthrightness to bring those issues forward and praise them for doing so publicly

Be aware that it is never easy to have these types of difficult conversations with someone else. Reward people who challenge assumptions and highlight difficult truths. Encourage that behavior and see it as a sign of respect and concern for your well-being.

5. Practice, Practice, Practice

As valuable as candor can be, if you are not well-practiced in using it and having candid conversations, unintentional harm can be done. Practice will help you develop the focus and intention required to deliver negative messages constructively and without being hurtful.

6. Be Willing to Admit When You Make A Mistake

Wise people do this. Admitting your mistakes disarms critics and garners you respect. It also makes others more comfortable sharing and admitting their own errors

Candor is not something you can mandate from others, but it is certainly something you can develop in yourself and model for those around you. It may not come easily, but when you commit to practicing candor with yourself and others, you can become highly skilled at creating the dialogue needed to inspire new insights and create the peace of mind needed to succeed in life and your profession.



Your Personal Mission Statement

A Vivid Vision for Success

Jan 13

Each of us possesses a driving force in our lives.  This essential framework defines who we are, how we approach life, and how we set goals and make decisions. A vivid vision starts by envisioning what you see as the epitome of your success.  Once you have created the vision, you can begin writing your own success script.  What will your personal mission statement be?

The process of creating a personal mission statement and our own vivid vision for success focuses us on something beyond a job title or salary.  It encourages us to consider and describe in detail every aspect of who we are and how we approach life.  It enables us to shape our purpose vividly, and since the purpose is at the heart of what leads us to accomplish goals and achieve success, it is an essential building block of our values and beliefs. Our values and beliefs form the foundation of goal setting, and research has repeatedly demonstrated that goals that emerge from our most deeply held values and beliefs are the ones we are most motivated to accomplish. Organizations and businesses have known that their mission is what makes them so much more than just the products they sell or the services they provide. A clearly articulated purpose and clearly stated values and vision serve as a constant reminder to all about where they are headed and lets others understand who you are, how you approach life and how you make decisions. Mission statements are not just for large organizations or businesses; crafting and sharing a personal mission statement that defines who you are, how you approach life, your priorities for setting goals and the values that govern your decision-making can be an extremely effective tool. Knowing what lies at your very core and being able to share that with others can be the competitive edge you are looking for.

Writing a personal mission statement requires that you follow an inside-out approach. It means that you need to take a hard look at your values, beliefs, and who you are at your core. You have to be fully open to the introspective work that can reveal your most deeply held beliefs and values. Personal mission statements do not have to be elaborate – they can be as simple as one word, a daily mantra or a favorite quote. It can be a simple sentence that brings into focus your core values, goals and purpose and can be a touchstone in difficult times and can help keep your focus on what is most important to you. Your mission statement helps you say no to things that distract you from carrying out your values, vision and plans. It becomes the roadmap by which you travel toward success, and it conveys your values to those around you. Your personal mission statement should not be static, and it should evolve and change over time as you do. Are you ready to begin creating or refining your personal mission statement?

 Here are a few ideas and guidelines to jumpstart the process:

  • Take an inside-out approach – be honest with yourself and don’t hide from anything. Here are some questions that you could ask yourself to begin this process:
    • What are you most inspired by?
    • What motivates you to action?
    • What do you believe? What are your most important values?
    • What do you want others to think when they hear your name?
    • What is the core energy that drives you?
    • What lies at your inner core: the pursuit of knowledge, power, love, wisdom etc.?
    • What turns down the dimmer on your energy and leads you to conflict?
  • Ask those who know you well what they would say your deepest values are. Be open to their feedback and notice how you respond emotionally to what they share. Often our emotions give us clues to what we feel most strongly about.
  • Choose words and use word association to create a list of values. Choose words that are actionable, inspirational, simple and authentic to who you are.
  • Look at who you admire and the qualities that draw you to them. Ask yourself what phrases about them mean the most to you. See what matches your goals and beliefs and adopt them.
  • Look to historical figures, writings, poems, and quotes, and identify things that resonate and inspire you.
  • Begin to brainstorm and draft your mission statement. Remember, it can be a word, a favorite quote, etc.
  • Once you have your mission statement, make sure that it is:
    • Simple and easy to understand
    • Inspirational and motivating
    • Action-oriented
    • Is an accurate representation of your authentic self
    • Expresses simply and clearly who you are at your core

Writing a mission statement is a little bit like trying on new clothes. If it doesn’t fit the first time, you can always go back and try something new.  But once you finish writing, put it out there for everyone to see and make yourself a laminated copy that you can bring with you and pull out when you need motivation or to restore your focus.

I’d love to hear your personal mission statements and about your experience crafting or refining them. Please share them with me in the comments field below.

Accomplishing Our Goals

What Does a Cup of Coffee Have to Do With it?

Sep 30

Yale University professor and leading researcher John Bargh has focused a significant portion of his professional life on researching and understanding how unconscious thoughts work behind the scenes to impact our behavior, judgment and perceptions. His research demonstrates how our behaviors, judgment and perceptions can be impacted by something as simple as holding an ordinary cup of warm coffee.

Bargh, along with his colleague, Lawrence E. Williams from The University of Colorado, designed and conducted a research experiment to understand how the temperature of a held drink influences whether we like or dislike another person. The experiment was designed as follows:

Students on their way to the lab “ran into” a lab assistant who was juggling several things, including either an iced coffee or a warm cup of coffee. The students were asked to hold the cup for a short period of time while the lab assistant regained control of the things they were juggling. The students were asked later to rate a hypothetical person on various attributes. The experiment revealed that the participants judged others to be more generous and caring if they had just held a warm cup of coffee and less so if they had held an iced coffee beverage.

Based on these findings, Bargh and Williams decided to take this one step further and test the impact of “warmth” on the perception of adults. Both experiments led the researchers to conclude that “physical warmth can make us see others as warmer people, but also cause us to be warmer, more generous and trusting as well.”

Their research affirms that our unconscious mind is always functioning in the background making rational and irrational decisions that impact our judgment, perception and behavior. According to Bargh, our unconscious thoughts work as a type of “behavioral guidance system.” This guidance system offers us suggestions about how to assess others or what to do. We then act upon our unconscious thoughts before our conscious awareness can take over.

So what does our unconscious mind have to do with accomplishing our goals?

Goal research indicates that our unconscious thoughts can cue or trigger behaviors without the individual knowing about it or intending it.  They can impact our ability to pursue and accomplish important goals. The research shows that not only the goal itself is impacted but that the incentives associated with the goal can be manipulated unconsciously as well. Researchers have concluded that unconscious thought, therefore, influences and impacts goal attainment as much as our conscious thought about achieving the goal does (Aarts, Custers, and Holland 2007).

When it comes to achieving our goals, knowing that both unconscious and conscious thoughts influence goal pursuit and attainment can help us understand how or why we sometimes go off track despite our best conscious intentions. The current research and theories suggest that when you find yourself engaging in behaviors or making judgments that seem to differ from your intentional goals, your conscious mind is not the source of behaving that way. What is causing you to act out of alignment with your stated intentions is a response to your unconscious “behavioral guidance system” being triggered. The behavior or response is being cued up by your unconscious as a result of situational information, past similar experiences or environmental cues (i.e., a warm cup of coffee) or residual emotions. Our unconscious “behavioral guidance system” kicks in before our conscious mind can serve its function as gatekeeper and sense maker.

The next time you feel you have engaged in behavior that has taken you off course for achieving your goals, grab a warm cup of coffee and consider what unconscious thought is driving your behavior in the present. Understanding your unconscious behaviors, judgments, and perceptions can help you right the course and engage your conscious mind as a sense maker to help you get back on track.

Are you willing to consider this the next time you get off track? Let me know what you think in the comments field below.

What is Grit and Why is it Important?

Aug 11

Angela Duckworth left a job as a management consultant at McKinsey to teach math in public schools in San Francisco, Philadelphia, and New York. While teaching math to middle and high school students, she was intrigued by the lack of success she saw in students who appeared to have all of the advantages over their less intelligent peers. This intrigued her so much that she decided to leave teaching and attend the University of Pennsylvania to earn her Ph.D. in Psychology and study what led to this outcome.

Her research revealed that high achievers possess an essential quality independent of intelligence, self-discipline, and ambition that leads them to success. She named this quality “grit.” As an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania, she studies self-control and grit and how they impact academic and professional success.

Grit, as defined by Duckworth, is “the perseverance and passion for long-term goals” and “the ability to stick with them until you master them.” Her research clearly shows that grit is a critical factor in overall long-term success and how it corresponds to our ability to triumph over setbacks and conquer important long-term goals. Duckworth developed the Grit Scale Test to measure this quality. The scale is used at the United States Military Academy at West Point and has become the best predictor of which cadets would be successful and which ones would drop out in the rigorous summer training program. Grit mattered more than intelligence, leadership ability, or fitness. Grit isn’t self-discipline, conscientiousness, perseverance, ambition, passion, or optimism— although these do play a role in grit. Instead, grit is something special that makes all the difference between being smart and being successful or being talented and being great.

Since grit is at the top of the list of qualities needed to accomplish many important goals in our lives, knowing our level of grit can go a long way in making a difference.

Do you know your grit score?

You can take the Grit Scale Test and determine your score by signing up for a free account at

Once you have your score, let me know in the comments how you plan to use this in your life.